Close Encounters with Wildlife at Yawkey Wildlife Center

Yawkey

by Noah Williams, FWCB Class of 2016

The Yawkey Preserve is a magical place where wilderness runs undisturbed and wildlife is as abundant as the beautiful scenery that abounds here.  I would like to take you on an adventure that I once found myself in the midst of; a tale of ghosts, danger, and nature fellowship.

Bobcat captured on a trail camera at one of Yawkey's impoundments.
Bobcat captured on a trail camera at one of Yawkey’s impoundments.

It all started on a crisp February morning where I was swept away by cozy vans of the College of Natural Resources, these would be our spaceships to another world. We departed in the early morning and stumbled our way to the coastal plain of South Carolina. We knew we were there when we arrived where the road met the water and an inspiring half boat half bridge greeted us with a smile. After crossing what was a wooden bridge in a time before cars, we stepped foot onto South Island and were introduced to the history of this enchanted land and the man who made it what it is today.

After being dropped off at our water-front, dream vacation home we were taken around some of the variety of different habitats that make up these lands. We first went to a longleaf pine community and talked about the marvelous red-cockaded woodpeckers that inhabit these cavity sites. Here we talked to a mystic herpetologist from the South Carolina DNR who mastered his craft being driven by his passion rather than the classroom, he also taught us about his current endeavor to learn more about the crafty eastern diamondback rattlesnake.  Next we adventured to a land of living dinosaurs as walked among jetties and met Cujo. Cujo, a near 11-foot beast, who’ actions were as predictable as his tell-tale clippings of his scutes and nails. We then were guided by our seasoned leader, who knew the land better than the bobcats who roam it, and an equally energizing man to visit a spectacle that few have ever beheld. A rare species of plant called Stachys Caroliniana, only found at this spot on Earth was shown to us; this was a breathtaking and truly awesome sight to experience; here we were accompanied by multiple other alligators that were none too pleased by our appearance. To wrap up the day we were taken deeper down the rabbit hole into more longleaf pine community. Here a wise elder gifted a carved knife to me for attempting to answer a question right, here was a luscious cherry to the red velvet cake that was my day.

When the sun went down we set our trap. Camera traps to be exact, our squad of rebels went our own way and utilized a pig carcass and peanut butter to entice our prey. After this we saw the skills and experience of our fearless TA Paul. He became a Steve Irwin-reincarnate as he aided us to converse with an Eastern Screech Owl. Here I learned of the importance of utilizing a call that is local to the area you are in, as the Owls responded better to calls from South Carolina. Paul quickly called in an encaptivated specimen and we listened as we heard multiple in the area. We then approached the horror part of our story as we neared a church said to be the source of paranormal activity. We entered the creaking church and to my delight the spirits were accepting of our presence and we graciously accepted their welcome to the land and our safe travels home for the night.

The next morning came with much anticipation as we first left to check the impoundments; here we used the spotting scope to expand our knowledge of shore birds through Paul’s gentle and effective teaching methods. We then left the birds to do what they do best and we ventured to more longleaf pine forest and got in depth with the fascinating life cycle of the Red-cockaded woodpecker. After we became more familiar with them we visited some cavity sites and learned more about the management strategies implemented to maintain this habitat. We then explored cool pools around us. After some time we had to collect our traps and check to see what we had caught. We examined them and saw elusive bobcats, familiar coyotes, and healthy-looking opossums. We then said our good byes and thanked the kind souls who aid and understand this holy place and rode off into the sunset.

Author Noah Williams with an Eastern box turtle shell that he found while exploring Yawkey.
Author Noah Williams with an Eastern box turtle shell that he found while exploring Yawkey.

This experience vastly contributes to conservation of vertebrate species in that the impoundments found here are refuges for many shore bird species, most of whom are migratory. They also are a popular spot for bobcats, coyotes and smaller mesopredators as our camera traps have shown and alligators as we saw first-hand. It is also a valuable site for longleaf pine communities and the gopher frogs, gopher tortoises and the charming Red-cockaded woodpeckers who call these sites home. This relates to my future aspirations by teaching me a much bigger lesson than a textbook ever could. And this is that in my career aspirations it is important to have an open mind with both locations of places I could work in the future and also the projects, more importantly the species, that I can work with.  Overall I learned a lot and am very grateful for being able to visit and experience this incredible place.